Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

Competitions and projects for the new Piazza del Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. 1860-1863

After decades of unsuccessful projects and proposals, the long-standing controversy of modernising Piazza del Duomo and of joining it directly to Piazza della Scala through the opening of a new street, was settled and began to become a reality thanks to the “first Italian town hall ” driven by Mayor Antonio Beretta.

On December 5, 1859 a decree signed by King Vittorio Emanuele II authorised the City Hall to issue a 2 million-ticket lottery for 10 lire each, assigning the net proceeds to the initiative. The stratagem was not as profitable as hoped, but nevertheless had the merit to grab the press attention and to better inform the Milanese and get them more involved in municipal projects.

In April 1860 a competition of ideas open to all citizens was announced in order to solicit public opinion and to gather ideas and suggestions that were going to be re-elaborated in view of the future construction work for the new Piazza Duomo. After considering the most varied and imaginative as well as the most reasonable and practical ones, a special municipal committee managed to outline the basic sketch of a project that included, in addition to the re-arrangement of the square, a straight street with a primarily commercial purpose, both uncovered and “covered in glass,” on the grounds where the Galleria stands today.

Based on this, in February 1861, a second competition was held, this time open only to “lovers of architectural art.” Among the participants was Giuseppe Mengoni, an Emilian architectural engineer, trained in Bologna, whose project (identified by the motto “Dante”), closely followed the town hall directions, including the idea of an alternately indoor and outdoor street. No project won the competition, but Mengoni’s one deserved a mention for its practicality and realism.

Biglietto e elenco dei premi nelle diverse giocate della “Lotteria civica per la nuova piazza del Duomo di Milano approvata con Regio Decreto 4 dicembre 1859”. Archivio Storico Banca Intesa San Paolo, Milano

Giuseppe Mengoni, “Planimetria della nuova piazza del Duomo della nuova piazza del Duomo di Milano via Vittorio Emanuele e adiacenze unita al progetto col motto Dante”, 1862. Il progetto partecipa al II concorso indetto dal Municipio di Milano.Civica Raccolta di Stampe Bertarelli, Milano

In 1863 the last and third invitation competition was held, in which, Mengoni took part against the Milanese architect Giuseppe Pestagalli, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera. Between the two, Mengoni’s proposal prevailed for its stronger functionality, attention to the scenic effects of urban design and the ability to delve into the complexity of the construction process that such a project would have entailed.

At this stage, the route of the road, which had eventually become a commercial street with glass and iron roofing, was still made up of one single arm, but already included a widening octagonal area at the center of the path. The project was approved by the city council in the sessions on 15th and 16th September 1863, but was not the final solution to the Galleria project, which was defined in the following year.

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